The Raveonettes - Raven in the Grave
I’ve often wondered what goes on behind the closed doors of Raveonettes HQ. Picture some dark, rat-infested LA alley, navigable by only a hardened, select few and littered with the tell-tale signs of urban decay – flickering street lights, broken bottles, abandoned Lincolns. There’s a featureless door, the kind that gives nothing away about its occupants, the kind of door that sees you sent off into the night when a flap opens and an inscrutable hard nut looks you up and down before sliding the flap shut. Inside, beyond a sprawl of hangers-on (an unwelcoming assembly of stick thin dudes and gals clad in leather and ‘tude) lurk Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo. There, on blackened benches, sit cracked Petri dishes and foaming flasks and burettes, the essence of pure Raveonettes magick distilled to industrial strength. These nocturnal endeavours come to a satisfying conclusion. Conspiratorially their eyes meet and they nod. It’s ready …
Hell, it’s painfully easy to caricature The Raveonettes. The blessed, mighty Raveonettes, for whom a musical manifesto on their first album (no ride cymbals, every song in B flat minor) saw them progress, via their unavowed love for 50s Americana, to become, as evidenced on 2009’s In and Out of Control , seasoned, masterful purveyors of classic pop. What an accomplished and accessible record that turned out to be, lingering long on the tongue with its wily combination of barbed rockin’ and spectral balladry. If its predecessor (the icy LustLustLust) shied away from being toostrokable, IAOOC was a sizzling reminder of how and why they’ve come to gain a position of authority and respect over the past decade. Drift away from them, with dim perceptions of genre revivalism, of Mary Chain fuzz and haunted house Everly Brothers harmonies, and you miss a much bigger picture. Don’t let the surface blind you to their ambition and scope.
Oh boy, experiment complete and conclusion written up, the pair’s satisfyingly strange brew is ready for bottling and no need for a sell by date. This time around, employing once again the maxim made policy by REM at a similar stage in their career, that each new album be a reaction against the last, giddy and all-enveloping is replaced by low-lit and moody. It’s a startling sidestep and it’s testament to the deftness of its arrangements and the force of its songwriting that Raven in the Grave could well be The Raveonettes best album to date.
Anthemic calling card ‘Recharge & Revolt’ signals the shift with its abandonment of verse and chorus, in its place an unerring, driving beat, a furiously strummed guitar and a top layer of screaming distortion. Uncompromising and fabulous, it sets the scene. Change is afoot. ‘War in Heaven’ steps into the shadows with noir stealth, a twilight barrage of melody and Sharin battling with St Peter (“A war in heaven…I hate it when they forget to let people in.”) The first half of Raven in the Grave continues in much the same way, mood pieces bejeweled with twinkling arpeggios, half-light vocals, dreamscape musings. Both ‘Forget That You’re Young’ and ‘Apparitions’ delve further into ‘Quiet Time With The Raveonettes’, the latter ruffling its dark feathers like The xx, no less.
Part way through, there’s a couple of gear changes, both deployed like Tomahawks. ‘Ignite’ and ‘Evil Seeds’ are incendiary rockers – think ‘Breaking Into Cars’ but with everything turned up to 12. The latter, in particular, with its bruising percussion, is hefty and irresistible. But even better is a brace of mournful, but luminous, lullabies where disquieting harmonies and shimmering guitar send Buddy Holly skyward with Angelo Badalamenti on his tail. ‘Summer Moon’ is rock ‘n’ roll classicism with an unearthly spin but closer ‘My Time’s Up’ is the album’s dark peak, regret-laden and sweetly sorrowful. It’s a heart breaker.
You know, it’s a sign that the world isn’t yet worth totally giving up on, that this fiery duo manage to navigate way beyond their initial narrow aesthetic. Just nine songs this time, barely more than half an hour but give me unfailing excellence over shoddy, pile-it-high trickery any day of the week. Here’s an album mounted on reflection, reveling in its own interior and confident that its delicious, dark abandonment confirms that black remains the new black. Everything old really is new again. Where they could have no doubt got by comfortably enough on just poise and style, lauded by the fashionistas but an endless frustration for those of us greedy for more artful kicks, The Raveonettes aimed high, grappled with their craft, expanded on their vision. Clearly, more than ever, in line with their early attitude, that ‘B’ movie swagger, they do not give a f*** for anything other than making absurdly great music. Now that’s what I call cool.